Dominoes is not a single game but a range of games played with similar equipment. The equipment used in the Orient is somewhat different from the equipment used in the Western World and varies is size and number of tiles. While dominoes and the games played with them have a very long history, Western dominoe sets and games are only about 250 years old.
The graphic at the left is a copy of Plate 21 from Stewart Culin, Korean Games, with Notes on the Corresponding Games of China and Japan, 1895. The book was originally published by the University of Pennsylvania and was republished by the Charles E. Tuttle Company, Tokyo, Japan in 1958. This copy of the plate was scanned from the Tuttle edition which stated that although the plates in the original edition were in color, they were reproduced in gray scale in the 1958 edition.
The graphic illustrates two Korean men and two Korean women playing dominoes. Culin states that the dominoes game they are playing is called "Foreign Tablets" (Ho-hpai in Korean) and he indicates that the reason the word "Foreign" in the name of the game is because it is thought that dominoes were imported into Korea from China in the distant past. On page 122 of his book, Culin states:
"A comparison of the domino games of Korea with those of China shows that they are practically the same... A discussion of the origin of dominoes, with an account of the Burmese and Siamese games [and many others], will be found in the author's paper on Chinese Games With Dice an Dominoes."
This latter paper was a Report of the United States Museum (now The Smithsonian Institution), published in 1893, and concerns the domino collection in that museum. A copy of that paper has been appended to this Website and can be viewed by clicking on the left menu item above.
References differ about the exact geographic origin of dominoes and their relationship to dice. Some authorities believe either dominoes are flattened dice, or dice are cubic dominoes! In any event, dominoes entered Europe from Asia, perhaps with Marco Polo, and quickly became popular on the European continent. One researcher suggest that the French introduced dominoes into Canada when establishing New France, and thus the game became know to the Inuit. Other historians indicate that either the British in North America discovered dominoes in Canada and brought them back to Britain, or they imported them directly from France.
Dominoes are known throughout the world today and domino sets and games vary from culture to culture. One can observe that dominoes is game played by people of all ages in all walks of life. Domino sets are found in homes in which multiple members of a family play the game, and sets are found in senior citizen centers and youth centers in which tournament games are held. Many travelers to the American Southwest and Mexico report seeing dominoes played as a gambling game among adults in taverns and public parks. It is no surprise that one doesn't need a human opponent any longer to play dominoes, since one or more versions have been available as a computer game for a number of years.
Contemporary dominoes are made of wood, bone, ivory, silver, plastic, cardboard, and a host of composition materials. The Museum has a number of different sets in its collection. To view a sample of these, click on one of the following pictures.
|Western Set||Asian Set|
|Nines Set||Braille Set|
|Bone Set||Embossed Set|
|French Set||Mexican Set|
|Picture Set||Sesame Set|
|Floor Set||Triomino Set|
Last update February 4, 2010